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Nov

18

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:53 am CT

5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church

Everyone will leave their church at some point. Whether God calls us home to glory, move to another city, or decide to try a different local church, we are going to leave.

Leaving a local congregation should be one of the most difficult decisions we face. It should be filled with the recollection of our love for the saints, their love for us, our service together in the name of our Lord, and our sorrows and joys in the faith. A church is family and we ought never feel it easy to leave family–even an unhealthy family.

But we do sometimes find ourselves at that crossroads. When we’ve decided to leave, there are at least five things we want to do before we go.

1. Share Your Thinking/Reasons with the Leaders

You’ve no doubt been thinking of leaving for some time. In all likelihood you did not wake up with the sudden new thought, I think I’m going to find another church. The thought has been building for some time. You’ve been piling up observations, minor disappointments, major hurts and persistent longings. You’ve likely done that quietly, without talking to anyone. And you’ve likely kept your silence for good reasons. First, you thought perhaps the situation would change. If you kept quiet things would get better and you wouldn’t have caused a “stir” by saying anything. Then you kept quiet because you didn’t want to spread your concern to others or hurt anyone’s feelings. Finally, you kept quiet because you stopped believing any change was possible or forthcoming. Now, after all those silent months of stockpiling critiques, you’ve decided to leave.

But if you leave this way, you’re going to leave a ghost in the congregation. People will be haunted by your absence and wonder, What happened to them? Why did they leave? Then people feel abandoned and hurt.

There’s a better way to leave. Share your thinking with your leaders before you make the final decision. Let them shepherd you through your thoughts and reasons even i that means shepherding you to the next church. Two things will happen. You will benefit from their spiritual care (and perhaps even be surprised by their agreement or receptivity). And the church’s leader and congregation will benefit from your insight. There’s a way to leave a church that amounts to win-win rather than abandonment.

2. Resolve Any Outstanding Conflicts

I suspect I experience what a lot of pastors experience: persons coming to the church disgruntled with persons in their previous church without having done anything to resolve the conflict. They’re running from something rather than facing it. The something could be personal conflict, church discipline or theological strife. In either case, don’t leave your church before you’ve addressed the conflict. Obey our Lord’s instructions in Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15. Go and be reconciled to the best of your ability.

If you obey the Lord in this before moving on then everybody wins. Lord willing, you win your brother over and the relationship is mended. You may find you don’t have to leave at all and experience renewed joy in the church family you’ve already invested years of life with. Even if you still need or want to leave, you’ll experience freedom from guilt because you’ve “made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). And your new church family will be able to receive you without the baggage associated with the previous church.

At FBC we refuse to take into membership anyone we know has some outstanding issue with their previous church. We insist they return to work things out before coming to us, and we very often follow-up with leaders of the church to confirm that appropriate efforts have been made. We find this leads to peace between churches, grace in reconciliation, and freshness in any new starts that are made.

3. Express Your Appreciation for the Church’s Ministry in Your Life

When people leave suddenly and without conversation with the leaders of the church they very often fall prey to ingratitude. Having convinced themselves of all the problems in the church, they usually minimize the strengths and virtues of the church. Sadly, this is the way many of us work ourselves up to making major decisions–emphasize the negative and downplay the positives.

But truthfully, no true church is without significant positive qualities. Even the church at Corinth, with all their problems, could be commended for the “grace given you in Christ Jesus” (1:4), for having been “enriched in every way” (1:5), “not lack[ing] any spiritual gift as they eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1:7), and being “the seal of [Paul's] apostleship in the Lord” (9:2). They had significant problems, but also much to commend. Though Paul heard things that he as an apostle should put in order, he nevertheless confirmed their testimony in Christ (1:6) and gave praise wherever appropriate.

We should celebrate God’s grace in a church long before we decide and actually leave. We should note the positive ways the church has impacted and blessed us spiritually. We should communicate that to our leaders and, where appropriate, to the body as a whole. I love those resignation letters that actually strengthen and edify the body because the brother/sister resigning “builds an Ebenezer” to God’s grace as they leave.

Please don’t make this a matter of soothing your conscience once you’ve decided to leave in an unhealthy way. Make this a matter of constant discipline in grace. Communicate appreciation before you decide to leave, as you’re thinking about leaving, and once you do leave. Our churches would be far healthier and more joyful if they were communities of gracious affirmation and appreciation.

4. Say “Goodbye” to Friends and Family

Unless we’ve been unusually isolated in our church families, chances are we have some significant family and friends who will remain in the church. They mean a great deal to us and they’re likely to be affected by our leaving. These are people you want to say your “goodbyes” to in person. You don’t want them to hear you’re leaving or have left on the floor of a members’ meeting. You don’t want to inadvertently suggest their friendship doesn’t or hasn’t meant much to you. You don’t want them wondering whether you actually loved them. You don’t want things to be awkward when you see them out and about in the community.

Instead, you want them to be affirmed in and by your love. You want them to know you will carry them in your affections though you’re going to settle into a new communion. You want them to know, circumstances permitting, that the friendship will continue and you’ll always be brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, include some personal time with friends and family before you actually leave the church. Invite them to your home or to coffee. Share with them your appreciation and your hopes as you move forward. Most will understand and be happy for you, even if they’re sad for themselves and their church. Such mourning and rejoicing are part of what it means to be the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27).

5. Be Honest with Yourself about Your Own Efforts, Motives and Failings

Leaving a church ought to be cause for self-examination. We ought to get the log out of our own eyes before focusing on the speck in the church’s eye (Matt. 7:3-4). This is hard, slow work–and most people skip it. It’s so easy to assume the purity of our own motives, to view ourselves as victims or martyrs, and to trivialize our many failings.

But integrity requires we be honest with the man in the mirror. Why are we thinking of leaving? What really motivates our assessment and desires? How have we contributed to the problems and feelings we’re finding so dissatisfying or hurtful? Have we taken full responsibility in confession, repentance and action?

We’re not honestly ready to leave and our churches are not ready for us to leave until we’ve gotten before the Lord with transparency, humility and ruthlessness with our own sin and flesh. But, if we muster such honesty, it will lead to our increased sanctification and joy.

CONCLUSION

Leaving a church can be a means of grace rather than a source of pain for everyone involved. But for grace to be multiplied we’ll have to do some things before we decide to leave and actually exit. Receiving this grace will require putting to death the fear of man and believing that God exists and He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6). If you are thinking of leaving, think of how you will leave. It could make a positive difference for you, your friends, your current and your future churches.

 
 

Oct

16

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:47 am CT

Christ Is Not Ashamed to Call Us “Brothers,” Therefore Be Unashamed

I love this promo video for T4G 2014. I pray you will join us there. And, more importantly than that, I hope we’ll all pray to be unashamed at every opportunity we have to make Jesus known!

 
 

Aug

01

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:19 am CT

Preaching on Evangelism at 9Marks @ Southeastern

One of my favorite gatherings each year is the 9Marks @ Southeastern conference. Hosted by one of the most gracious seminarian presidents ever, on one of the most charming campus environments anywhere, with a family feel that you can actually feel, in the most lovely state of all–North Carolina, this conference has southern hospitality and warm fellowship written all over it. No glitz and bling, just the preaching of God’s word, friendly discussion, and lots of hanging out. Shoot, this year I’ve even been invited to join some of the attendees for some NC BBQ! That’s what I’m talking about! I don’t even care if it’s the second best BBQ in N.C. (that being the eastern NC vinegar-based grub). I’m looking forward to this year’s conference and I hope you will (a) pray for us and (b) consider attending. Learn more about the conference and register here

9Marks at Southeastern – Evangelism from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

 
 

Jul

17

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:40 am CT

Poetry Meets Cinematography in “Eyes Like Judas”

I love the newest poem from Jackie Hill, “Eyes Like Judas.” I love what God is doing with poetry and hip hop, using the forms to bring himself glory! Enjoy!

 
 

Apr

18

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|5:00 am CT

A Final Wrap-Up: Thabiti Anyabwile and Douglas Wilson

Introduction

When our discussion first started, we were both surprised at how well it went, and both of us are very grateful to God, and to one another, for this great blessing. We have also been grateful to the readers and commenters who participated in this discussion in the same spirit, praying with us, and laboring to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

Agreements
We wanted to bring our discussion to some sort of formal close, and so this is it. As we understand it, our points of agreement are:

1. Mankind is one in Adam, which means we share a common humanity, and a common slavery to sin. We together believe that mankind cannot come together in a true unity until they do so in the second Adam, the only one who is capable of overcoming the sorts of things that divide us.

2. We both believe that racism is a grievous sin, and we believe that it is a sin that has the practical effect of undercutting the gospel. Jesus came to cast down the middle wall of partition, not only between Jew and Gentile, but also to cast down any other walls that exist between any other races, nationalities, tribes, or tongues. Worthy is the Lamb, for only He could do this. But even He had to do it with the price of His own blood (Rev. 7:9).

3. The logic of the gospel is jubilee logic. This means that the messianic promises all looked forward to the day when the liberation of the world from every form of slavery would begin, and the arrival of Christ was the inauguration of God’s kingdom. This liberation from slavery begins with liberating men from their slavery to sin, but it necessarily and inexorably includes all other forms of slavery as well—whether the forms of slavery as they existed in the ancient world, or the more recent forms in our country.

4. We agree that the letter of Philemon is saturated with the idea of koinonia fellowship, one that Paul and Philemon and Onesimus all shared, and that Paul uses this spiritual reality as the foundation of his argument, urging manumission for Onesimus.

But Differences Remain
In the areas where we continue to differ, those differences are significant, although some of them may well be differences of emphasis.

Thabiti continues to believe that:

1. The history of slavery—even the existence of American chattel slavery, especially among Christians—represents a far more egregious transgression of love, the gospel, and humanity than represented in Black & Tan, which attempts a dangerous revision without sufficient historical evidence. He believes privileging man-made constitutional arguments over the liberty and full flourishing of fellow human beings betrays the gospel, betrays the command to love our neighbor, and fails to consider the balance of all the relevant biblical texts. That combination of revising the record of slavery’s inhumanity and privileging only the prima facie reading of texts compatible with one’s position leads to gross misjudgment and siding with the oppressor against the oppressed in the case of American chattel slavery.

2. A defense of “state’s rights” or the South’s withdrawal from the Union is tantamount to a defense of American chattel slavery. The inevitable consequence, had the South won the War, would have been the perpetuation of race-based slavery and all its concomitant evils. There’s no way to credibly defend the South’s position without also providing means for the continuation of its sins and oppression of Black people. There’s no way to credibly defend the South as a “Christian nation” while tolerating its practice of race-based chattel slavery, even if we hold to an emancipative gradualism. Only an immediate end to slavery would have been consistent with the “jubilee logic” of the gospel and repentant of the “grievous sin” of racism upon which the practice was based.

3. We need an unembarrassed and stalwart acceptance of every jot and tittle of the Bible, including difficult texts that pierce and challenge our own favored positions and cherished histories. After all, the word of God is a piercing double-edged sword which heals by slashes and cuts. We need to embrace what Wilson calls the “angular texts.” But we need not do that in a way that makes us impervious to charges (i.e., racism, insensitivity, etc) that we ought to hear or forgetful of the fact that different “angular texts” challenge each side of a dispute. “Angular texts” and all, as servants of the Lord we must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and certain that what we’re defending is the truth of scripture rightly understood and not just our favored positions or our pride.

4. The Constitution of the United States was never a perfect document. Its guidance then (antebellum South) as well as now (battles against abortion) is insufficient and in need of modification from time to time. To assert that the Constitutional issues at the time of the Civil War are directly contributory to the Constitutional issues surrounding abortion is a massive logical mistake. Despite some parallels, it’s better to recognize that the document has and continues to fail us at various critical points in history—slavery, women’s rights, and now the protection of unborn life. The Liberty Bell has been cracked from the beginning, a crack put there by the hypocrisy of ringing for liberty while holding slaves. The fix is not to root our current discussion in debatable matters involving the country’s racial past, but to pursue “a more perfect union” by more fully applying and defending the high ideals and values the Constitution does embody. We don’t need to look back to go forward, especially if we’re looking back with a biased eye to a “history” that did not exist. We need to be faithful in our own day, and that means not sticking your finger in the eye of people who would and ought to be cobelligerents but showing genuine love “in word and deed” (1 John 3:18) as we work together on life-and-death matters of mutual concern.

Douglas continues to believe that:

1. The “angular” texts of Scripture must be handled and understood in a way does full justice to them on their face. I believe this is possible to do in the light of redemptive gradualism, but this in turn means that not every Christian slave owner was bound to the duty of immediate manumission. After all, how do we interpret the text that says that the Israelites could hold foreign slaves forever? We can’t just agree to face these texts in principle — we have to actually face them and say out loud what they mean. Are these some of the words that are profitable for instruction (2 Tim. 3:16)? Further, because in our present day, such commitment to all the texts of Scripture is sufficient to get any Christian tagged as a racist, any a priori commitment to avoid charges of racism at all costs will necessarily morph into a regrettable softness when it comes to the issues of biblical authority on the controversies of our own day — abortion and homosexuality chief among them.

2. We have allowed our indignation at sins committed one hundred and fifty years ago to hide our complicity in the atrocities of our own day. I believe that the constitutional implications of the War and the Reconstruction amendments paved the way (in the realm of constitutional interpretation) for Roe v. Wade, and has resulted in a far greater evil being perpetrated on blacks in the 21st century than slavery ever was in the 19th. While it is good to be correct about idols toppled long ago, it is far better to be right about the idols that are currently demanding the blood of innocents, including many millions of black innocents. Our obedience before God will be reckoned in how we dealt with the sins of our own era, not the sins of another. My central interest in all these historical issues has to do with how the legal principles that were laid down then are being understood and applied today.

3. I do understand the point that support for the South would have had the downstream effect of continuing the institution of slavery, at least for a time. While the point is easy to make from this distance, it imposes, I believe, an extra-biblical requirement, and furthermore, it is one that nobody practices in our current situations. I believe it is too simplistic and is unworkable. For an American soldier to go the Middle East today and fight for “democracy” is also to fight against nations that don’t allow abortion-on-demand, and it is to fight for a nation that does. To help America is therefore to help abortion. Well, we would say, quite rightly, it isn’t quite that simple. I completely agree . . . but would also add that it wasn’t that simple in Virginia one hundred and fifty years ago. We really must use equal weights and measures. The Lord was quite insistent upon it — the judgment we use will be the judgment that is used against us (Matt. 7: 1-2).

Conclusion
In conclusion, we believe a fair summary of our conclusions would be this. It is possible for Christians to disagree about volatile issues. Moreover, it is possible — indeed necessary — to do so charitably. The strong disagreement makes us feel like enemies and strangers, while the charity reminds us of our brotherhood in Christ. The strong disagreement tests the bonds of our fellowship and love for one another, while genuine love covers over a multitude of sins and holds all virtues together. We believe we have experienced both the testing strain of strong disagreement and the preserving bonds of biblical love. We thank God for it even as we disagree about some things, agree about others, and hope to be faithful to our common Master in it all. We believe that this is what it looks like to labor to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace — it is kind of messy sometimes, but we believe it pleases God.

 
 

Apr

02

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:52 am CT

A “Black and Tan” Round-Up

For the past couple of weeks, Douglas Wilson and I have carried on a discussion of his book, Black and Tan. The book and its prequel, Southern Slavery As It Was, triggered controversy that’s lasted these last ten years or so. Our exchanges have been charitable and frequent. I thought it might be good to include a post-by-post round-up for anyone wishing to follow the discussion as it evolved. I think I’ve gotten them all, but there have been a lot of posts, sometimes seemingly posted only minutes after one or the other of us have hit “post.” So, if I missed one or more, please charge it to my head (and eyesight) not my heart.

Why Respond Publicly to Douglas Wilson’s “Black and Tan”? (TA)

A brief post explaining how I became involved in this discussion and listing five reasons I think it wise to proceed with a public discussion rather than a private one.

Douglas Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery and the Bible (TA)

I attempt (successfully, according to Wilson) to summarize the main argument and points included in Black and Tan. I quote at length Wilson’s comments rejecting racism and slavery, and attempt to summarize Wilson’s motivation for writing Black and Tan.

Does the Driving Logic of “Black and Tan” Hold Up? (TA)

I attempt to address three basic aspects of the book: (1) the underlying logic guiding the entire book, (2) the exegetical case for slavery as a permissible institution, and (3) the historical claim that the South as a nation and the slavery it practiced was comparable to the Roman practice the apostle Paul addressed. I contend that the authority of the Bible was not widely challenged leading up to the Civil War, and that federal action to end the Civil War cannot be causally linked to our contemporary culture wars.

Patrick “Nostradamus” Henry (DW)

Wilson responds to my first critique by distinguishing between the formal authority and the functional authority of Scripture. He expresses his concern that the real issue was not the doctrine of Scripture among slaveholders and abolitionists but the doing of scripture, actual obedience.

Slavery and the Bible: The Perspective of This Abolitionist (TA)

I attempt to account for the biblical texts relevant to the question of slavery, its practice, and its end. I call for an immediatism to slavery’s end, contrary to the gradualism Wilson proposes. We cover the commandment to love, Philemon, 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:1-2, and the household codes.

Love Is Never Later (DW)

Wilson responds to my exegesis of the biblical texts with almost complete agreement. He agrees that we should privilege the command to love and that obedience to that command should not be delayed. Wilson points to some hypothetical situations where he suggests that love might not mean immediate manumission.

How Koinonia Conquers (DW)

Wilson offers this article, originally published in Omnibus, as evidence of his treatment of Philemon and evidence of how closely aligned our understandings of the text are. He believes Philemon received Onesimus back as a brother, most likely freed Onesimus, that Onesimus became a co-laborer with Paul, and that Onesimus is likely the same Onesimus addressed by Ignatius.

The Designated Ambition Pole (DW)

Wilson reminds us of the original context for publishing Black and Tan. He recounts Paul Hill’s murder of an abortion clinic doctor, the questions Hill’s actions provoked, and his desire to avoid the marketing shrink wrap of so much evangelical culture.

Sometimes the Exceptions Reveal How Far We’ve Gone with the Rule (TA)

A response to Wilson’s near complete agreement with my biblical exegesis of pertinent texts on slavery. Wilson imagines situations where a gradual manumission might be more loving, while I ask, “Why not free the slave immediately and still provide the kinds of support that express love?”

Adoni-bezek’s Thumbs and Toes (DW)

Wilson explains why he continues to believe that current obligations to do things like denounce racism cannot be disentangled from “messy history.” He also introduces the notion of progressive revelation as he discusses a portion of Lev. 25′s commands regarding slaves.

The Cost of Our Chosen Entanglements (TA)

I attempt to explain why I think Wilson’s association with the “civilian affairs” of the South’s secession impairs his ability to value African-American life and to extend to African Americans the same right to pursue the freedom he cherishes.

Water Is Thicker Than Blood (DW)

Wilson explains why we mustn’t go to war with cartoons but recognize the humanity of our opponents and explains why he doesn’t think constitutional issues are easily disentangled from very real lives that have been disenfranchised.

Resisting the Slavers (DW)

In response to thread comments, Wilson takes up the issue of whether the War of Independence could be considered just and the Civil War not.

The Histories of the American South: A Caution Against Hegemonies (TA)

After attempting to avoid a discussion of the historical issues at play, I felt compelled to make an assessment of the assumed history in Black and Tan. I argue Black and Tan fails to provide us any history while attempting a major revision of our understanding of the American South and slavery. I also contend that the book’s failure to interact with differing perspectives amounts to a biased view and an overly optimistic view due to Wilson’s postmill perspective.  I conclude with a postscript on historical and cultural hegemony.

With Jello in My Hair (DW)

Wilson replies to my concerns about the history in Black and Tan by admitting the book is not and is not intended to be a work of history, that he believes the book would have been stronger to interacting with differing viewpoints on the history, and explaining his postmill perspective. He pushes back against a postmodernism and “multiculturalism” that denies God’s metainarrative on history.

Another Point Where Wilson and I Almost Entirely Agree: On Doing History and Multiculturalism (TA)

I reassert my basic critiques of Black and Tan‘s underlying history by responding to Wilson’s defenses. I also attempt to discuss how many African American and White discussants have two different things in mind when they talk about “multiculturalism.”

A Good Luck Wave Won’t Cut It (DW)

Wilson responds to my critique of Black and Tan’s history, agrees with my previous post’s comments about multiculturalism, and returns to a comparison of slavery and abortion, maintaining that abortion is far worse than slavery in its death toll. He also explains why he doesn’t think his postmill views lead to a “rosy” picture of slavery.

Illustrating Racial Insensitivity in Black and Tan (TA)

I attempt to define “racial insensitivity” and to comment on several minor and more serious comments in Black and Tan that I think fail to lovingly consider diverse readers and racial sensitivities.

Harder Than It Looks (DW)

Wilson responds to my definition of “racial insensitivity” with a proposed amendment and replies in turn to my citations of racial insensitivity. He offers an apology while distinguishing between persons genuinely offended and those who may be “flopping”. He calls for the kind of effort at reconciliation where parties say what they want to say and remain at the table after they have said it.

A Theology of Apology (DW)

Following up on “Harder Than It Looks,” Wilson uses three biblical incidents to explain why his apology came with qualifications and explanations.

I Can Be Insensitive, Too (TA)

I offer an apology to readers who took offense at a passing reference to Trayvon Martin.

Once More Into the Breach (TA)

I respond to Wilson’s call to “stay at the table” by pointing out three problems with his apology post and seeking to get a clear sense of whether Wilson though he’d written anything insensitive in Black and Tan, accepts responsibility for those comments, and would retract them. I refer to some useful principles for apologies and forgiveness from Peacemaker Ministries.

A Trigger Alert Study Bible (DW)

Wilson pushes back against an apology I offered readers at Pure Church. He then reasserts the need for a full and complete acceptance of scripture and a way for understanding our current cultural struggles in historical context before he could apologize for Black and Tan across the board.

Oh, So Close… And Yet So Far Away (TA)

I clarify that I was not asking him to retract Black and Tan across the board, but respond specifically to the charge of insensitive comments. I also speculate about whether fear of negative results might hinder Wilson giving a more complete apology.

Another Rose Hedge Awaits (DW)

Wilson accepts that I was not asking him to retract Black and Tan and apologizes for misreading me. He restates his apology by admitting that he believes himself to have written some insensitive things in Black and Tan. He creates a placeholder for some future comments.

Hecklers Gonna Heck (DW)

As promised, Wilson returns with more thoughts about the kinds of fears he has in public conversations of this sort and why different tones might be appropriate for different persons in such a discussion. Part of his concern is that evangelical capitulation to insistence on “polite” speech often comes a step or two before evangelical capitulation to the demands of those rebelling against God’s rule.

 
 

Mar

13

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:58 am CT

Doug Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery and the Bible

Yesterday I expressed my intention to engage Doug Wilson’s views on race, racism, slavery and the Bible as expressed in his book, Black and Tan. I think the first responsibility of charitable engagement is to attempt understanding the other person’s point-of-view and to accurately relate it to others. Without that step, there can be no real exchange. So, here is my attempt at setting forth Wilson’s positions on these subjects, quoting heavily from Wilson himself.

Wilson on Racism

The first thing to state, because it has often been denied, is that Wilson categorically denounces racism. The book is replete with such denunciations. Here are a couple:

“God created the human race in Adam and Eve, and all of us are descended from them, and are therefore cousins. Lest the point be missed, we are also all descended from Noah and his wife (again), and it turns out we are all still cousins. Racial vanity and racial animosity can find no foundation in Scripture” (p. 26).

“American slavery had the additional complication of its racial basis. And so we as Christians, especially as American Christians, must denounce as a matter of biblical principle every form of racism, racial animosity, or racial vainglory” (p. 38).

“I have no interest in defending the racism (in both the North and the South) which was often seen as the basic justification for the system, and I do in fact condemn it most heartily” (p. 42).

“Like radical abolitionism, all forms of race hatred or racial vainglory are forms of rebellion against God. Such things are to be vigorously opposed because the Word of God opposes them. In brief, God has raised up all nations from one man (Acts 17:26). We are all cousins. And not only are the races connected through God’s creation of Adam, we are united (this time in harmony) in the redemption purchased by the Son of God. ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth’ (Rev. 5:9-10)” (p. 49).

We shall leave for a subsequent post why many people still charge Wilson with being a racist. But for now, in trying to let Wilson speak for himself and consider the letter of what he writes, we should let these statements stand as representative of his position on racism.

Wilson on Slavery As a System

Wilson’s views on slavery are more complex than his straight denunciations of racism. Let me try to sketch his biblical exegesis and then add a few quotes to further document his attitude on slavery.

To read Wilson’s view of the Bible’s teaching on slavery in more detail, see chapter 3, “Scripture and Slavery,” in Black and Tan. Wilson’s exegesis of the Bible regarding slavery might be summarized in several points.

1. The Bible speaks authoritatively about slavery and Christians are duty-bound to obey its teaching (p. 14, 37). In some ways, this is really at the heart  of this entire issue. Wilson writes to protect the Bible from its Christian cultured despisers, or at least those Christians who might be stumped and embarrassed when an antagonist points to the unpleasant subject of slavery in the Bible as a means of rejecting the Bible’s teaching at some other disputed points (homosexuality, for example).

2. The slave trade was an abomination and is clearly rejected in the Bible (1 Tim. 1:10; Exod. 21:16). Here, Wilson has in view “man stealing” and the trafficking of human persons. He insists that Christian participation at any point in man stealing was inconsistent with biblical teaching (p. 54). But he distinguishes man stealing from the system of slavery itself. Later, Wilson maintains that slavery itself was not an inherent evil and that godly Christians could be members in good standing in Christian churches while owning slaves (p. 44).

3. The slavery regulated in the Mosaic law differs from slavery in pagan empires like Rome. Slavery regulated by the Mosaic law was “little more than an indentured servanthood (bond apprenticeship for a time)” (p. 37) and include laws for manumission and release. It was temporary. However, these OT provisions for manumission and repatriation were being ignored by slave traders, who ignored the prohibitions of man-stealing as well, and according to Wilson this meant “the vast majority of the slaves had already been enslaved in Africa by other blacks”, “restoration of these slaves to their former condition was a physical impossibility” (p. 55), and “many of the slaves in the South were descendants of men and women who had been brought over generations before” (p. 56). Christians living under pagan governments that allowed slavery had a duty to “follow the biblical instructions for resisting the paganism of this slavery carefully so that the Word of God would not be blasphemed (1 Tim. 6:1).” Wilson sees a distinction between slavery regulated by God and slavery instituted by pagan government, “which was therefore to be subverted by faithful Christians living in accordance with the gospel” (p. 38). Despite such subversion through biblical obedience, Wilson understands that “The Bible permits Christians in slave-owning cultures to own slaves, provided they are treated well” (p. 47). “Nothing can be plainer than the fact that a Christian could simultaneously be a slave owner and a member in good standing in a Christian church” (p. 53).

4. Christians must denounce as a matter of biblical principle any racism, racial animosity, or racial vainglory involved in American slavery or any other race-based system of slavery. Wilson calls for the denouncement of racism, but he does not see a biblical mandate for denouncing slavery as such.

5. The gospel is antithetical to slavery as a system and would, over time, lead to the eradication of slavery everywhere. The fact that Christian slaves could pursue every lawful opportunity for freedom reveals that slavery is “inconsistent with the fundamental Spirit of the gospel, who is the Spirit of liberty” (1 Cor. 7:20-24; 2 Cor. 3:17).

6. The best subversion of slavery occurs when Christian slaves and slave owners carefully obey the dictates of Scripture. If the Bible’s teaching were followed closely, the peaceful elimination of Roman slavery and American slavery would have resulted in time.

7. Godly social renewal is never bloodthirsty. The radical abolitionists’ insistence on immediate action, force and coercion short-circuited the gospel’s slow, leavening work and resulted in the horrendous loss of life during the Civil War, or War Between the States, as Wilson prefers. Points 5-7 represent the conclusion toward which the Bible points, according to Wilson. He writes later in the book, “the gospel over time necessarily subverts the institution of slavery generally. But this gradual subversion would have been reformational and gradual, and not revolutionary and bloodthirsty, as radical abolitionism was” (p. 45). Wilson sees the remedy of war as resulting in problems “every bit as bad as the original disease ever was” (p. 60).

Wilson opines that “the system of slave-holding in the South was far more humane than that of ancient Rome, although it still fell short of the biblical requirements for it.” He pictures the South as a thorough-going Christian country, writing:

The discipleship of the nations is a process. This means that the South was (along with all other nations) in transition from a state of pagan autonomy to one of full submission to the Lordship of Christ. Christian influence in the South was considerable and extensive, but the laws of the South still fell short of the biblical pattern. In spite of this, the Christian influence on antebellum Southern culture surpassed most other nations in the world of that time (p. 51-52).

In Wilson’s view, the South should have been sufficiently “Christian” to practice slavery as the Bible regulates it. The southern situation, being better than the Roman situation in which Paul wrote, was subject to NT teaching. He understands that “the Christians who owned slaves in the South were on firm scriptural ground” (p. 52). But failing to treat them in a biblical manner, God severely judged both the South and the North (judging the South with the North).

Beyond this basic exegetical approach, Wilson also communicates his personal attitude toward slavery. That attitude might be summarized with the following quotes:

“I am certainly not wishing for a return to slavery. I am profoundly grateful that chattel slavery no longer exists in our nation. Let there be no mistake here–the logic of the Christian gospel is contradictory to the institution of slavery generally, and as the gospel of salvation progresses through history, one of the necessary results is the gradual eradication of all slavery. Jesus Christ really is the ultimate Jubilee” (p. 47).

“The severe judgment that befell the South from the hand of God was true justice in part because of how the South had treated her slaves” (p. 49).

Why Bother?

Now all of this argumentation, in Wilson’s view, serves two major issues of importance: defense of the Bible and course correction for evangelical Christians in today’s culture wars. Wilson himself puts this in a nutshell when he writes:

Christians must live or die by the Scriptures, as they stand. Compromise on what the Bible teaches about slavery is directly related to the current pressures to compromise on abortion and sodomy. Southern slavery was an example of the kind of sinful human situation that called for diligent obedience to St. Paul’s directives, on the part of both masters and slaves. Because this did not happen, and because of the way slavery ended, the federal government acquired the power to impose things on the states that it did not have before. Therefore, for all these reasons, radicalism is to be rejected by Christians.

For Wilson, careful exposition of the Bible’s teaching about slavery remains critical for understanding contemporary evangelical engagement with cultural issues. Because, as Wilson argues, slavery was ended in an improper way, it enlarged the role of the federal government and has placed the Christian worldview and society in a weakened position against anti-biblical opponents. For Wilson, setting the story straight about slavery enables a more effective adherence to all the Bible’s teaching and a more effective engagement with the culture.

Conclusion

I hope this accurately represents Wilson’s views. I have tried not to editorialize but simply present Wilson’s positions as I understand them from Black and Tan.

But what are we to think of Wilson’s approach to all these issues? Are there any weaknesses in his exegesis of the appropriate biblical texts? Is his analysis of American slavery historically accurate? Why might some continue to see this book as racially insensitive if not racist?

We turn to these questions in the next couple of posts.

 
 

Jan

30

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|7:20 am CT

Good Interviews for Your “Hump Day”

It’s Wednesday. You’re on the “hump” of the week. It’s all down hill from here! :-)

I’ve enjoyed a couple of recent interviews that might just be an encouragement to you on your hump day.

Check out this audio interview with Jemar Tisby, Phillip Holmes and Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr in four brief parts (part one | part two | part three | part four). They cover a wide range of topics, including: the necessity of the multi-ethnic church, Hip hop and “ghetto nihilism,” the prosperity gospel in the Black community, the three biggest threats to the African-American church, the necessity of discipleship, and how to teach people who are hostile to Reformed theology.

Also, H.B. Charles, Jr. has a wonderful 37-minute interview with New Orleans pastor Dr. Fred Luter, Jr. Dr. Luter also serves as the first African American President of the Southern Baptist Convention. They discuss Luter’s conversion, early ministry street preaching, his call to the pastorate, and the Southern Baptist Convention.

 
 

Jan

28

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|11:39 am CT

The BBQ Chronicles: Memphis Edition, 3

When you talk a lot of smack about barbecue like I do, a lot of well-meaning folks want to challenge your culinary discernment. Actually, being from the barbecue capitol of the world, I’m quite accustomed to gainsayers making a play for the title. Comes with the territory. Champions don’t mind. You line ‘em up, we knock ‘em down.

So, I wasn’t surprised when Dr. Tim Russell approached me after the conference on Saturday and insisted I accompany him to the guaranteed best Memphis BBQ available. We’re far enough south that my inner-southerner took over. I smiled a broad smile, shook his hand, and traded a few “aw shucks” retorts. Southerners are polite, you see. But Russell knows the routine and I could tell we were having a real festival of southern trash talk. My kind of man.

I knew he was serious when he offered to pick me up from my hotel. Not just a recommendation, but a little added hospitality, too. Truth be told it pained me to leave the Mustang parked, and I think she had a touch more attitude, too. But who can refuse southern hospitality? I graciously accepted the ride but mentally cued my theme song–my own version of Shaft.

Who’s the black BBQ chef 
That judges others without a ref? 
SHAFT! 
Ya darn right! 

Who is the man that would risk his neck 
To make sure Lexington gets respect? 
SHAFT! 
Can you dig it? 

Who’s the cat that won’t cop out 
When there’s BBQ all about? 
SHAFT! 
Right On! 

I am to wannabe barbecue restaurants what Shaft was to “da man.” Sitting in the back of a sedan is not going to make me soft. He better bring it.

But I knew we just might be headed toward a real barbecue joint when I noticed the houses gradually shrinking. The change in geography proved that “lawn” is a thoroughly upper middle-class word. We soon entered neighborhoods with “yards,” and before long all I saw were “stoops.” We’re getting there.

Then there she was: the Cozy Corner. It was the only open unit in a 70′s styled strip center. The strip center itself floated alone in a vacant lot. No neon anywhere. In fact, I think we’re talking whatever lightbulbs they used before fluorescent was invented. I felt warmed basking in the soft golden glow radiating from inside the restaurant.

Location: Hood

When we arrived at Cozy Corner’s my clothes still smelled of faux roadhouse commercial atmosphere, like cigarette smoke from a bar. So the throw-back interior of Cozy Corner’s felt like walking in a fresh spring shower. “Right as rain” probably got its start right here in this restaurant. There was the dark brown wood paneling on the walls, an ancient heater hanging from the ceiling, old diner furniture with formica tops, and the collage of fading family photos mixed with articles clipped from local newspapers, honors awards earned by school children, and a picture of the odd visiting dignitary or two– the mayor of Memphis, President Obama. The menu, a red-trim white-background lettering board with the little black movable letters, hung overhead. Old school.  Banners commemorating their 35th anniversary hung across the doorway dividing the ordering area from the dining room. My eyes scanned the ordering counter cluttered with flyers and leaflets  beckoning to community events. My attention landed on the large-print Bible open to Psalm 83, the text for the morning’s staff devotion. This place has spirit, character, integrity.

Ambience: Classic Hole-in-the Wall

As it turns out, the light in the restaurant comes from the beaming face and generous hospitality of its owner, Mrs. Desiree Robinson. Tim introduced us to her, donning her trademark bandanna tied in a stylish knot just off to one side and covered with a knit baseball cap. After the introduction she took it from there, explaining the menu, welcoming us to Memphis, and giving us a history lesson on Cozy Corner. Started in 1977 along with her husband Raymond, now in glory, it’s a family business. Up until 2010, when her mother went to her reward, there were five generations of Robinsons working there. Now there are four, many of whom are college graduates who serve at least part-time in the family eatery. The youngest start working in the family business as soon as they’re able to toddle and talk. Being able to say, “Thank you for coming” and “Welcome” gets you a spot as greeter. Judging by the cute kids running around, I’d say that’s darn smart marketing.

Between Tim’s encyclopedic knowledge and deep rolodex (he’s never met a stranger) and Mrs. Robinson’s wonderful charm, I felt right at home, as if everything I could ever need was just over in the cupboard. As if kicking my shoes off might just be acceptable. I decided not to, though. Good home training.

Relaxing as I waited for the food, I realized something sitting in Cozy Corner that night. Memphis BBQ has a soundtrack. Surprisingly, it’s the sound of 70′s and 80′s soul and funk. I’d heard similar tunes at Central’s. But at Cozy Corner I was table dancing and head bobbing before the food arrived. I tried to keep the bop subtle, since I’m a pastor and all. But then boom: “Outstanding… girl you knock me out.” I was gone. Thrown back in a slow drag with memories of blue light parties. Mr. Marvin Gaye joined in with “Mercy, Mercy Me.” Then the O’Jays piped up with “Forever Mine.” I forgot where I was sitting, closed my eyes, and sang to my wife. Then the mood and tempo picked up with the Jackson 5 singing, “I’ll Be There.” Just look over your shoulder, honey! That’s Michael back in the day. By this time I was ready for the ribs.

Service: Down Home

Now you can’t eat ambience. So the ultimate test of Cozy Corner’s pit skill would be the meat on the plate. As I did with the other establishments, I allowed my host and the family-staff at Cozy Corner to order for me.

They’re known for their ribs. And their barbecued Cornish hen and barbecue balogna sandwich are fabled throughout Memphis. To be honest, I was skeptical. I grew up on balogna (pronounced “baloney”). I loved the sound of the sizzling frying pan and watching that circular meat bubble in the middle, edges crisp, and then relax with a little slit in the side. Add some government cheese and you’ve got my favorite summer time recipe! If she was going to work with baloney she would have to bring her A game.

Now, the ribs, hen, and baloney sandwich didn’t arrive as quickly as it had in other restaurants. There’s a reason. Some restaurants par boil their meat before they barbecue. It’s the equivalent of getting a head start in a foot race. Of course, the folks who need a head start aren’t really the superior athletes. They’re the chubby kids who know they can’t win and won’t race unless you spot them some distance. Real athletes toe the line and go head up. That’s the case at Cozy Corner. No par boiled meat here. Everything goes raw into the pit! they’re not competing against other shops, they’re competing with the meat and setting the standard! I nearly hugged and kissed Mrs. Desiree when she commented with a hint of disdain, “You don’t need sauce to make good barbecue. All you need is salt and pepper to make it taste good. Especially if you use quality meat.” Chil’ ain’t that the truth!

We shared four heaping plates of ribs, a barbecued cornish hen, and I had my very own baloney sandwich. For sides, baked beans and cole slaw, chased with sweet tea. The sweet tea was good. The baked beans were okay. But the cole slaw was excellent. The first decent batch I’ve had in Memphis. Finely chopped ingredients, good consistency, a small burst of sweetness. That’s how you do it!

The hen must’ve been hand raised because it was about as tender a bird as I’ve eaten. I prefer white meat, which can sometimes dry on you. But not this hen. She came plucked, plump and rewarded every bite with comfort.

But let me tell you about these ribs. First, they didn’t need any sauce. The sauce was nice, but there was real flavor in the meat itself. Tender and ready to be eaten. In fact, these ribs walked right off the bone and into your mouth. I’m pretty sure that as I ate my fifth rib Paliament blasted over the radio, “We want the funk. Gotta have that funk.” They wanted it; we had it! We hammered three of the four plates of ribs in a matter of minutes. The fourth, my otherwise generous host, wrapped up and took home without offering us visitors any of the loot! I can’t blame him.

Oh? My baloney sandwich? This woman redefined the limits of possibility with that mystery meat! First, we’re talking a nice thick slice of baloney. Second, they managed to get that crispy ring around the outside. Served on a bun with barbecue sauce and that delicious cole slaw, it was off da hook! Don’t take my word for it. Chris Wright, theologian and expert on European cuisine, had never heard of “baloney.” We translated it back to “balogna” and he understood a little. I shared one bite with him and heard him muttering in a Northern Ireland accent something about the mission of God including baloney in the new heavens and new earth.

We chased it all down with sweet potato pie.

Sides: What sides? It’s all about the meat!

Hen: Yardbird the way you like it.

Baloney sandwich: Ain’t no baloney

Ribs: Smack ya mama good

Desert: C’mon. It’s sweet. potato. pie.

I rolled out of Cozy Corner convinced I’d tasted the best of Memphis so far. My brother Chris Wright was snapping photos to show the folks across the pond (thank Chris for the pics above!). In fact, Cozy Corner was so scrumptious I decided I’d better not ruin it by visiting some other eatery on this trip. Commissary and Rendezvous will have to wait a future jaunt. I was thankful for Tim and Kathy Russell and the introduction to Cozy Corner. I’m going to have to bring the whole family to this spot.

But I do leave Memphis with Lexington’s BBQ title in hand. Cozy Corner didn’t serve any pulled pork. That makes it by forfeit: Lexington 3, Memphis 0. Memphis, step it up on the chopped pork before I return. The Mustang is growling and prowling!

 
 

Jan

18

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:13 am CT

Who Needs Christmas? A Series on the Book of Micah

A couple Sundays ago, I had the privilege of finishing a seven-week series on the book of Micah. What a great blessing preaching that powerful book. The idea to preach Micah came when Tony Carter, Reddit Andrews, Ken Jones and myself teamed up to preach through the book at the New Life Bible conference last year. Hearing each of those brothers pound the text stoked my desire to wade into Micah with the saints at FBC.

I don’t normally preach a special series at Christmas. Truthfully, despite the title, this couldn’t be called a “special series,” even though we drew attention to the season and the prophetic pointers to Christ’s advent. It’s an expositional series with a repeated emphasis on the fact that every type of sinner needs Christmas. As an introductory foil, we used Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

I had great fun and I trust the Lord blessed His word to His people. He may even grant us grace to see fruit harvested in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

In the event someone may be interested, here are links to the seven sermons:

Who Needs Christmas?

Idolaters and Exiles (Micah 1)

Thieves and Liars (Micah 2)

Leaders and People (Micah 3)

Pagans and Sufferers (Micah 4)

God and the Church (Micah 5)

Ungrateful and Dishonest (Micah 6)

The Lonely and Defeated (Micah 7)